In December of 1969, at the request of only a few Serbian Orthodox Christian residents of Durham Region, Bishop Sava of Eastern America and Canada gave his blessing to establish a place of worship. The church and school congregation would bear the name of Saint Arsenije of Srem. The following year, the attempt was made to form a municipality’s membership. Since Serbian Orthodox Christians were spread over a large area, the distance from their homes to the church was significant problem. In 1970, the Church had only nine permanent members, residents of Whitby and Oshawa, who were able to regularly attend the church service. At the time, the parishioners of St. Arsenije of Srem, in many cases first generation immigrants with very limited funds, were unable to build or to acquire a church and to have a permanent priest. The service to commemorate Serbian Orthodox saints and to celebrate Orthodox holidays was performed at a rented Greek Orthodox Church by visiting Serbian Orthodox priests.
Despite the great desire to have a place of worship, the small number of permanent members and extremely modest funds forced the closure of St. Arsenije of Srem in the 1980s. The acquired church relics were returned to St. Sava Church in Toronto.
In the early 1990s, a wave of immigrant Serbs brought new hope and the desire to establish a congregation was re-awakened. In 1992, a request to renew the School Congregation of St. Arsenije of Srem was sent to the Canadian Serbian Orthodox Diocese, signed by 72 Serbian Orthodox Christian residents of Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham and Scarborough. On February 5, 1993, at the annual diocesan assembly in Hamilton, Ontario, the approval was granted by Bishop Georgije to establish the Church and to form the School Congregation of St. Arsenije of Srem. The Congregation was to include Serbian Orthodox Christian residents living in towns from Scarborough in the west to Kingston in the east.
Bishop Georgije appointed the first parish Rev. Vasilije Tomić; the Church and School Congregation Assembly was constituted with Rade Milanović as its first president.
The search for a location began immediately after the founding of the Church community. Eventually, a beautiful Presbyterian Church on Byron Street in downtown Whitby was chosen, built in 1879. On September 8, 1993, Rev. Milutin Veljko was appointed permanent priest by the Bishop’s proclamation to head St. Arsenije of Srem Parish. The church was blessed by the Bishop Georgije himself on October 9, 1993.
In the months that followed the purchase of the church, dedicated parishioners modified and redecorated the building to serve the needs of Orthodox believers: the sanctuary was rearranged, the iconostasis was painted by iconographer Dragan Marunić, a place for a celestial icon was constructed, two magnificent psalterias were built, candleholders were made, a counter for bookkeeping and for selling candles and ecclesiastical items was built. Many other items that are needed in the Orthodox Church were acquired over the next few years.
Some minor repairs on the outside were also needed: the roof was changed, the worn-out tower was re-aligned, the parking area was paved, and a new fence around the church was installed. A major renovation converted the basement into a usable space – a banquet hall. Equipped with a kitchen and a bar, it now serves all the needs of the church community. It is used for ecclesiastical school classes, celebrations, festivals, folk rehearsals, and more.
Currently, the following groups are active at the Church of St. Arsenije of Srem:
- Arsenije of Srem Church Choir;
- ‘Mala Gospojina’ Kolo srpskih sestara, the Circle of Serbian Sisters, dedicated to supporting all undertakings of the church, including organizing and supporting social events for the entire community;
- ‘Šumadija’, the youth folk ensemble;
- ‘Bela Rada’, the adult recreational folk ensemble;
- Serbian Language Youth School;
- Table tennis and recreational sports teams; and
- ‘DNK’, group dedicated to promoting and preserving Serbian culture.
The building’s age is starting to show. The church is currently in need of serious repair. Since the church is a heritage building, all repairs must preserve the original appearance. This work is normally performed by companies specializing in this type of restoration, and it is very costly. In order to preserve this beautiful building - a piece of history and our place of worship - we need everyone’s help. We would appreciate and cherish any help and support.
God Bless You.